I was among the lucky few (about 30) Microsoft partners who were invited to participate in the first of a series of regional Partner Town Halls, hosted by Jon Roskill, Corporate VP, Worldwide Partner Group.

(I got my few minutes of fame when I was videotaped asking Mr. Roskill a question from the Town Hall; I appear around min. 26 in this video.)

The event was at the brand-new Microsoft retail store in Bellevue Square, Bellevue, WA. Before the meeting kicked off, the first thing I noticed is that  the store is cool!  It has all different flavors of Microsoft technology exhibited on devices you can play with. Of course, I expected the Xbox Kinect would be showcased, but I didn’t expect to see so many different makes and models of Windows 7 smart phones, desktops and laptops with touch screens, and even Amazon Kindles. Of course, the store is also full of technology accessories such as skins for your Xbox, cute memory sticks, and the like.

After some light breakfast and coffee, Roskill kicked off the meeting with a bunch of Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) statistics. Under the new MPN, which kicked off in November, there are already 400 partners who hold Gold Competencies, and 34,000 who hold Silver Competencies.  (In all, there are about 640,000 partners globally.)

Then, the conversation turned to cloud computing. Roskill discussed both Microsoft Cloud Essentials & Cloud Accelerate, which are programs designed to help MPN members get their cloud businesses up and running. The programs offer robust benefits, like 250 BPOS and CRM online seats. The message is clear: those partners best able to evangelize the cloud are those using it.

Nintex’s VP Technology, Mike Fitzmaurice, asked a question about the adoption rates cloud technology by business size. Roskill indicated that while they expected small and medium businesses to move first, Microsoft has been pleasantly surprised with the number of enterprise organizations who have also embraced cloud technologies.

Fitzmaurice’s follow-on question was, “when will the cloud version of SharePoint allow full customization?” The answer:” In Spring 2011 with the release of Office 365.”

This is great news for SharePoint users. Since most organizations customize their SharePoint deployment, a non-customizable or limited-customizable version is, well, of limited value.

And all of this knowledge before 9:30 a.m… What a great way to kick off a workday!